After sweeping his Likud party’s primary election on Dec. 26, by a crushing 72.5pc vs 27.5p for challenger Gideon Saar – PM Binyamin Netanyahu switched directly into campaign mode for the March 3 general election. “A huge victory,” he declared jubilantly. “Thank you, Likud, for your trust, support and love. With the help of God, I will lead the Likud to a big victory in the upcoming elections and lead the state to unprecedented achievements.”
By this win, Netanyahu threw out Saar’s claim to the party leadership and also cemented his role as leader of the right-wing-religious camp. Saar campaigned with the message, strongly echoed by the mainstream media, that his election as head of Likud was “fateful for the country.” Likud voters did not buy it. He failed to gain even one-third of the 49pc of the 116,000 eligible voters who turned out in stormy weather to make their mark.
According to an initial breakdown, Netanyahu achieved his highest score in the outlying areas compared with the central cities. For his campaign, he reverted to the classical tactics of personal contact with the grassroots voters, rather than relying on the social media and television. For weeks, he pressed the flesh in hundreds of small locales, often at the rate of 7-8 a day.
Two consequences of this event are worth noting:
- Many Likudniks refuse to buy the validity of the corruption indictments brought against Netanyahu and are confident that he won’t be constrained from continuing to lead the country. This indicates a widening credibility gulf between many parts of the population and the national authorities of law enforcement.
- The hopes entertained by the opposition camp, especially Kahol Lavan, that the primary signified a split in Likud were dashed. They had counted on Gideon Saar winning enough traction to drop Netanyahu and take Likud into a power-sharing deaf for the next government. Kahol Lavan strategists will now have to roll up their sleeves for the toughest of the three elections they have fought until now to beat Netanyahu.